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  • Writer's pictureAngelo Sotto

Student Perspectives: Two-Stage Collaborative Testing

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

What comes to mind when you hear the word “test”?

Most think of individual, closed-book evaluations. No collaboration. No talking. Rarely are tests ever thought of as a collaborative endeavour.

But in Dr. Danielle Bentley’s classroom, they are. Dr. Bentley has introduced a novel method of testing in her course Anatomy for Medical Radiation Sciences (ANAT110), known as two-stage collaborative testing. In this format, all students individually complete term tests, then subsequently convene into groups of 3-4 to rewrite the same test. The individual and collaborative components of the test are disproportionately weighted, with the former being weighted 75% and the latter 25%. Dr. Bentley recently evaluated the educational effectiveness of this test method using a crossover research design. “After writing our tests individually, half of the class was assigned to rewrite the test in groups of 3 while the other half would be dismissed,” explained Yashi Ballal, a student in the Medical Radiation Sciences joint program hosted by the Michener Institute and the University of Toronto. “For the next midterm, the two halves would switch such that everyone has the chance to write the test collaboratively.”

Pictured: Students in Dr. Bentley's ANAT100/MRS159H1 class (Anatomy for the Medical Radiation Sciences) in the collaborative stage of a written examination.

The collaborative test required lots of communication and consensus, as every group was required to submit just one test. Yashi describes the collaborative testing setting as “unique” as it allowed her and her group members to “[discuss their] answers, [hear] new perspectives, and [learn] from one another”. As described in our most recent publication, published in the Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences, many students indicated that their learning was enhanced by being able to consult with their peers. Specifically, the two-stage collaborative test method gave students the opportunity to fill in knowledge gaps and clarify mistakes that were not apparent when studying, as well as to explore different approaches to different types of questions. In addition, being in groups and interacting with group mates also allowed students to get to know their peers in the same cohort:

“The interactions with my groupmates (thankfully everyone was very keen and responsible in joining most clinical cases and labs) helped me to get to know my groupmates better, work more comfortably with them and this, in turn was crucial when working in groups for collaborative testing as we would be able to better communicate instead of the simple rule of ‘majority wins’.”

- Anonymous study participant in the 2018 Nuclear Medicine cohort

However, despite the many benefits and positive experiences that students had with collaborative testing, some also had some difficulties to share. Majority of these difficulties had to do with increased stress, anxiety, and/or pressure in the collaborative group setting. Yashi mentions that personally, she prefers traditional testing over collaborative testing: “I found that with groups, there can be a dynamic change when psychology comes to play. [...] If one individual takes on the role of the ‘group leader’ and answers most questions, others may ‘go with the flow’, despite having different perspectives”.

One of the major confounding factors examined in our study is negative persuasion - being persuaded by the group to change a correct answer into an incorrect one. Victoria Melo, one of the research students and co-authors of the study, focused on this aspect of the testing format: she “[compared] students' answers on their individual portion of the test to the collaborative portion, seeing how often students were convinced to change a correct answer to an incorrect one, and if any specific factors influenced that”. One anonymous study participant in the 2019 Nuclear Medicine cohort mentioned that “having to write the term tests individually was quite exhausting mentally. Then having to write it again with a group with varying opinions added to [the] stress and exhaustion”. In one extreme situation, one student was individually persuaded to change five answers from correct to incorrect. Evidently, challenging group dynamics may have a bigger impact than we thought on how students perform in collaborative tests.

Despite such drawbacks, overall perceptions of the two-stage collaborative format were positive with 84% of participants reporting that the testing format provided constructive learning opportunities.

These positive experiences were not limited to the students writing the tests, they were also experienced by members of the ATLAS Research Team such as Victoria, who worked behind the scenes on this project: “Possibly what I appreciate the most was the opportunity to gain experience with all stages of a research project, from development to data collection, to analysis, and really see what all of that entails”.

Pictured: Undergraduate research student James Faul explaining the two-stage collaborative testing format in Dr. Bentley's ANAT110/MRS159H1 class (Anatomy for the Medical Radiation Sciences).

In Dr. Bentley’s classroom, tests are not where learning stops, but rather, where learning is enriched. With collaborative testing, the hope is that tests won’t feel as lonely and as daunting as they seem in their traditional setting.

The ATLAS Research Lab’s latest publication, “Two-stage collaborative group testing does not improve retention of anatomy among students studying medical radiation technology”, is now available to view here.



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